Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
So we have a action flick starring Denzel Washington avenging people, aptly titled The Equalizer. What does that tell you?
Quite a few of the post-Man on Fire actioners starring Washington have had his lead protagonist running away from some past while simultaneously getting dragged back in giving his brand of justice. He lives in some, and dies in some. And while these flicks are super entertaining in their own right relative to a thousand other horrible movies that don’t even deserve to be on the silver screen, there’s still a sense of Déjà vu setting in (pun intended).
But what really makes The Equalizer tempting enough for potential audiences to take a peek into the cinemas? It’s the fact that director Antoine Fuqua is back in collaboration with Washington post their viscerally brilliant Training Day, Fuqua’s only truly brilliant movie.
The flip side to this is that we don’t have David Ayer on screenwriting duty. We’re instead offered Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2), who might not be too bad – but let’s just say that considering a lot of Fuqua movies not having enough fuel to drive themselves through like Training Day did, would this work? Or would it – like other films – be nothing more than just a moneymaking action film?
What’s it About?
Well, meet Robert “Bob” McCall (Washington), a quiet man working for a home depot store, spending his sleepless nights reading books at a diner, where he usually meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz; Kick-Ass) – a reluctant prostitute trapped among the fierce Russian (sigh) mob. When her life is put to stake by beating her to within inches of her death, McCall’s past kicks up as he decides to go on a spree of vengeance.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now there’s only so much you can expect from a movie like this – an overtly conventional storyline, a badass Denzel Washington, and quite an impressive bunch of highly stylized action set-pieces. What could really bother one as a member of the audience is that the core concept – adapted from an 80s CBS show of the same name that ran for four seasons – could most definitely have worked around itself some more. Wenk certainly weaves around an absolutely functional screenplay, which is why there’s unfortunately nothing that transcends its own trappings throughout its own narrative. People who’ve seen stereotypical Russian baddies in previous Hollywood actioners will be served exactly the same stereotypical Russian baddies In this one. This is probably one of the main reasons why Marton Csokas’ Teddy, despite being a solidly well-acted and (intermittently) layered antagonist, falls back on being just a presence in the midst of an absolutely derivative antagonistic mythology.
What the movie excels in is Washington’s character evolution. His McCall has a gripping mystery surrounding him. For almost two-thirds of the film, you’re constantly guessing the reason he behaves the way he does. When the cat of justification is out of the bag, however, it’s a thorough dampener. Considering the choice of casting, however, it’s a thorough joy to watch Washington to put his spin to McCall’s brand of avenging justice. Of course, that by any means doesn’t mean that he’s given a character any newer than the one we’ve seen in countless Washington-with-a-past-bashing-people-up movies – except that he’s a very organized, head-on-shoulders person relative to the countless alcoholic, coke-snorting protagonists he’s otherwise relegated to in the movies of this template.
This is exactly why it’s quite fortunate that the audience is delivered some absolutely precise action sequences through most of its runtime. Of course, it’s quite the bummer that the final action set-piece is an overlong, overdrawn exercise in viewing, which most definitely might not bode well with some. There’s also some eventual focus on lots of drama for character development, but throughout its runtime, there are definite chances the viewers will find something missing and, hence, find the scenes sans action slightly irritable. Most of the movie is delivered with the help of some absolutely fine cinematography, helping capture (whatsoever present) emotion through framing, movement and speed; the latter-most especially concerning action set-pieces. The production design is very grand and spaced out, yet very minimalist, both at the same time. The music by Harry Gregson-Williams (Déjà Vu) is tense and atmospheric, adding some emotive leverage to the scenes of the film.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Denzel Washington. The name says it all. I needn’t explain how bloody good he is at convincing us he’s just plain awesome every single time he comes up on screen with his restrained badassery. After proving to the viewers in Flight that he still has that very dynamic emotive range he had when he started out with his eclectic selection of movies, he returns back to comfort food with his type of action film. Might I daresay, however: he’s awesome nevertheless. Chloë Grace Moretz pitches in a fantastic performance, proving to the audience the world over that she’s not one to be stereotyped ever. Marton Csokas does brilliantly as Teddy, but the thing is – at the risk of repeating myself – the credibility of his performance gets diluted in the derivativeness of his antagonistic presence. Johnny Skourtis as Ralphie is such a warm presence in the film, it’s not even funny. Yes, his character doesn’t deliver much relevance, but he’s still really refreshing to watch onscreen. David Harbour returns in a semi-antagonistic role again after his presence in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Here though he does frankly seem more accessible than the last character, which is both a good and bad thing. Everyone else performs more than functionally enough.
Fuqua knows how to make a movie tailor-made for action junkies. Denzel Washington is a top favorite for most action junkies. With the both of them together, the movie manages to be a show-stopping exercise in highly stylized, ever visceral action. It, however, suffers from being trapped in a meaningless bout of cliché-riddled events, considering its almost template-like structure. Fortunately, it doesn’t dip too much for its target audience to get any bored, thereby ending up being a slightly more-than-intermittently entertaining action feature.
Definitely recommended if you’re an absolute fan of meaningless Denzel-starring violent, stylized action movies.
Star Rating: 3 / 5